New Jersey Transit commuter trains have hit their worst on-time and reliability records in the 18 months since Governor Phil Murphy promised to overhaul the nation’s second-biggest commuter railroad.
For the 12 months ended in March, 90% of peak trains departed or arrived on schedule. That’s the lowest average among 16 years of such data on NJ Transit’s website. Trains also broke down more frequently than ever from the July start of the fiscal year through March, records show.
Commuters face even more inconvenience. The agency through 2020 is testing federally mandated emergency braking, a project that caused unprecedented disruption last year as locomotives were sidelined for software installations. And for 12 weeks starting June 17, at least 5,000 daily Manhattan commuters will have to take a ferry or another railroad to cross the Hudson River to accommodate track work at Pennsylvania Station.
Murphy, a Democrat who took office in January 2018, has made some strides on a promise to turn around NJ Transit’s safety and reliability issues in the wake of eight years of budget cuts by his Republican predecessor, Chris Christie. But the most maddening troubles, crowding and lateness, continue to plague riders seeking to avoid some of the nation’s most congested roads.
The bill also sought to increase transparency, but so far that’s been a disappointment to Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., a Westfield Republican who served on the committee investigating NJ Transit. He’s sponsoring legislation to compel the railroad to disclose why it discontinued Manhattan-direct service on the Raritan Valley Line in September 2018, and when it might return. He said the law is necessary because NJ Transit hasn’t answered his multiple inquiries on the matter.
“It impacts real-estate values,” Kean said by telephone. “From the smallest communities to the largest urban centers in New Jersey, everyone is impacted by this dysfunction.”